By Tina Olson
Senior Therapist and Clinical Supervisor
Teenagers are known to be experimenters. When they were young children, their structure likely came from the family’s value system. But as they grow into adolescents, young people start exploring on their own by looking outside the family to try on other values.
At YouthZone, our staff spends time talking with our clients about their values. When life throws challenges at these young people, their values influence their decisions on how to cope. Their value system is demonstrated by their choices, and society defines what is acceptable.
Values can be identified through self-awareness and determining what makes you unique. Some of that identification is external traits about yourself including gender, ethnicity, what work you do, your family’s culture, or where you go to school. Other parts of self-understanding come from discovering what is important to you and how you want to behave. This can include ideals like honesty, determination, leadership or creativity.
YouthZone’s Youth Advocates help youth explore their values by asking questions, and parents can do the same thing. If a young person values friendship, what is it about friendship that is important? If someone values family, how do they define family? Do they care about education, why or why not? Do youth value a role in the community? How do their choices contribute to building their value system?
Self-identity and values are intertwined. When a teenager writes a list of the things they like to do, what does it say about the kind of person they want to be? We often compare ourselves to others and sometimes imitate what we like in others to develop self-identity.
Adolescence is a prime time to discover, explore and mold a value system by identifying what it means to be a part of a family, a community and a culture. Learning can be painful, but it can also provide moments of pride.
It’s normal for young people to experiment with and even challenge value systems. Teenagers often ask why they need to know something and if it will help them in their life. They love to have a reference to a reward, but more importantly, they benefit from a clear understanding.
As part of the evaluation process at Youthzone, advocates and counselors invite youth to consider who they are and who they want to be. Our goal is to help them actively explore their own values because their self-identity will evolve through this process. By accepting themselves consciously, they become more visible to themselves and acknowledge their own responsibilities. A personal value system surfaces as they acknowledge and embrace their self-identities.
All adults are important teachers and role models for our youth. We all hold a piece of the responsibility of young people building their value system. If you are part of a teenager’s life, there is no time like the present to help bring them a positive focus in our ever-changing world.
Tina Olson is YouthZone’s clinical supervisor and senior therapist. She has been employed with YouthZone since 2017 and is a licensed professional counselor specializing in adolescents and families.